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We experience an obsession when we are trying to stay abstinent and are overpowered by thoughts of using. People who love addicts experience obsession in their relationships when they feel the desire to control other people’s moods or behavior. Obsession can take a variety of forms.
An intrusive obsession is a thought of using that seems to enter our minds from out of nowhere. When we are hit by an intrusive obsession, we find ourselves suddenly dropping our plans and responsibilities, and pursuing the substance, behavior or person that we crave.
A reoccurring obsession is a thought of using that enters our minds over and over again throughout the day. Fighting with this thought consumes all of our energy. We try to remind ourselves of the importance of not using, of all the things we will lose if we use again, and of what always happens to us when we are on a spree, but the thought keeps coming back and seems to grow stronger over time. If we are able to hold out against the reoccurring obsession, we become exhausted and depressed. We are easily irritated and find that normal daily tasks require an enormous amount of effort. Even if we don’t use, the reoccurring obsession wins by beating us down.
A third kind of obsession is called circumstantial obsession. We experience a circumstantial obsession when we are presented with the opportunity to use and cannot think of any good reason not to, even though we have everything to lose. We may give ourselves some silly excuse for using, or we may not think at all. Before we know it, we are deep into active addiction again, wondering what happened to our common sense.
A fourth and final kind of obsession is called the fundamental obsession. The fundamental obsession may not be experienced as a thought of using at all. Instead, we experience this obsession as a basic preoccupation with ourselves and how we feel. It is usually hard for us to identify the fundamental obsession at first, because it is so much a part of how we experience the world. It is like water to fish—we are so familiar with it that it is hard to see. Those of us who have been abstinent for long periods of time without a spiritual solution know the pains of fundamental obsession all too well. Life is unsatisfying. We are constantly agitated and restless, even though we may be quite depressed. We are unable to form meaningful or lasting relationships. We have a deep sense that life is treating us unfairly. People seem cruel and selfish to us; they ignore us and our needs. No matter what we try, we do not seem to be able to get any peace of mind. We are constantly trying to adjust the circumstances of our lives in an attempt to find some comfort. We may have a vague sense that something is wrong with us, but we do not know what it is.
Reoccurring and circumstantial obsession may actually get easier to cope with over time, but the fundamental obsession only gets worse. The pain of daily living builds up inside us and we have to vent it somehow. Some of us become violent; others tax the patience of our friends with complaints. Many of us find some substance or behavior that provides us with temporary relief. In other words, we switch addictions in order to cope with the pain of fundamental obsession.
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